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Opiate Addiction: Global Epidemic  

December 11, 2018

It’s no secret that opioid addiction has spread rampant throughout the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control “Drug overdose is the leading cause of death in Americans under 50.” The U.S. is the leader in consumption and abuse of opioids, however this is not an isolated crisis. The battle against opiate abuse is a global epidemic. The United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are examples of countries fighting against the staggering statistics of opiate overdose related deaths within their own borders.

More often than not, addiction begins innocently and seemingly without provocation. Prescriptions are often written by primary care physicians to treat pain of all sorts, from bone breaking accidents to chronic pain management. While opiates are proven to subside pain, there are negative consequences to prolonged use and abuse. Leaving the individual subject to opiate addiction, the risks can often times outweigh the benefits.

Common opiates:











United States

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse “Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.” According to ASAM “Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel.” Statistical resources provide overwhelming evidence to support opiate epidemic in the U.S. Opiates are classified as narcotics and act as a depressant, affecting the central nervous system. Ignorance to the stronghold of these medications ultimately lead to dependence and abuse.


Canada is second to the U.S. in consumption of opiates per capita. According to Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction 13% of Canadian adults used opiates in 2015, with 3,987 overdose related deaths in 2017. Opiate overdose was responsible for over 13 hospitalizations in 2017. Higher rates of prescribing opiates, lack of educational resources, introduction of fentanyl, and the influx of synthetic opioids on the black market are all contributing factors to the epidemic. Canada launched a 10 year strategy (First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada’s Prescription Drug Crisis) combating the war against prescription drug abuse which included 58 strategies covering 5 major subjects: prevention, education, treatment, monitoring/surveillance, and enforcement. Other areas covered in the the report discuss legislation, research, evaluation, and regulation. The U.S. Embassy has partnered up with Canada in providing experiences and learnings in hopes of addressing the opioid crisis.


United Kingdom

Reports have shown that 1 in 3 of Europe’s overdose related deaths have occurred in the UK, dubbing the United Kingdom as the “drug overdose capital of Europe.” Research from The National Health Service shows a doubling of 12 million to 24 million opiates prescribed and hospitalizations, overdose related, jumped from 4,891 to 11,660 a day. The UK has seen an influx in tramadol prescriptions as well as codeine. Both substances have a high potential for abuse and the results can be fatal if misused. Development of specific roles for healthcare professionals, other than doctors, has presented the opportunity to further assist with pain management. The UK has implemented change through education and resources addressing the disease of addiction.


Prolonged use and abuse of opiates is detrimental to the body. Addicts abusing opiates are at a much higher risk of premature death and serious health complications. As the individual’s tolerance increases the negative effects on the body increase as well. The deleterious effects on the human body can create chronic and even fatal consequences. Psychological effects of opioid abuse can last for years which is why therapy and supportive resources are quintessential to maintaining long term sobriety. The only way to relieve these symptoms is total abstinence. As addiction plagues the globe, more treatment options and resources have become readily available for any addict struggling to achieve sobriety. Recovery is an all encompassing lifestyle that requires rehabilitation for the mind, body, and soul.